Going into the half in their Division VI playoff opener, Northmor coach Scott Armrose was worried.
While the team was only trailing by a 22-14 margin, they were struggling to contain Coal Grove’s methodical run-heavy attack. The visitors had dominated the time of possession, scoring on drives of 11, 16 and 13 plays and only had been stopped by the end of the second quarter on their fourth possession.
However, defensive adjustments and huge special teams plays completely changed the game in the second half. Over the final 24 minutes of action, Northmor (9-2) outscored their opponents 30-0 and advanced to the regional quarterfinals with a 44-22 win over the Hornets.
“To start halftime, I was worried,” said Armrose. “We looked like we were getting our butts kicked and we went into that locker room and we were looking at the ground. The boys took it upon themselves. They got on each other, they encouraged each other and we said we’ve got the ability to score a lot of points in a hurry and we’ve done that all season long. There’s nobody that can stop us when we’re firing on all cylinders.”
The Golden Knights opened the third quarter with a huge play, kicking and recovering an onside kick to get the ball on the Hornet 47. Northmor followed that play with a quick drive down the field that ended with a short touchdown run by Paul Cramer. Carson Campbell would then add a two-point conversion to tie the game at 22.
“That’s what changed the game right there,” said quarterback A.J. Bower of the onside kick. “That swung our momentum. We went down and scored and stopped them and scored again.”
Northmor then got their first true defensive stop when they stuffed running back Kaden Murphy way behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-two to once again start in Hornet territory at the 40.
“We just changed our game plan a little bit because we knew what we were doing wasn’t working,” said Cramer. “We couldn’t keep our heads down, we had to come out in the second half and just play our football. It was mainly just figuring out what we had to do because we didn’t have a great idea on how to stop them. We just adjusted and came out and did what we had to do.”
Armrose added that his team bottled up the Coal Grove ground attack by switching to a defense his players weren’t even familiar with.
“A great job by coach (Al) Sears, our defensive coordinator, to adjust at halftime,” he said. “To get our guys in a front we haven’t done all season long. It’s something we haven’t done, but it was a great halftime adjustment and it worked. It was put into terms where our kids would understand and execute it. Great job by everyone tonight.”
Northmor would turn that good field position into the go-ahead touchdown on another Cramer touchdown — this time from four yards out — to lead 29-22 with 5:37 to go in the third. The big plays would keep coming for the team, though. After forcing Coal Grove to punt, the Golden Knights blocked the kick to start out on the Hornet 30.
“Special teams were so good tonight, too,” said Armrose. “We blocked that punt later on, made our extra points, converted on our two-point conversions when we needed to. An all-around great job.”
A 23-yard pass from Bower to Jaxson Wenger moved Northmor inside the Coal Grove 10 to set up Cramer’s third score of the day on another four-yard run. After an encroachment penalty on Coal Grove, Armrose made the call to go for two and Cramer carried the ball back into the end zone to make it a 37-22 game late in the third.
Northmor would add insurance points in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard pass from Bower to Cameron Goldbach as the team made it to the second round of the postseason — a conclusion that looked to be in doubt at the half.
Throughout the first half, Coal Grove relied on the potent rushing attack of Murphy, Gavin Gibson and Caden Turner to eat yards and clock. After the Golden Knights jumped out to an early lead on a 45-yard scoring pass from Bower to Wenger, the Hornets went 69 yards in 11 plays — all on the ground, to get on the board. A two-point run by Gipson gave the visitors an 8-7 lead.
Northmor would turn the ball over on downs on their next possession and Coal Grove made them pay with 16-play drive that went 78 yards and was concluded with a short touchdown run by Turner.
The Golden Knights responded with their own touchdown drive, getting a 30-yard pass from Bower to Wenger to tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter, but Coal Grove went right back down the field to get another Turner touchdown that allowed them to go into the half with an eight -point lead.
But after Northmor’s strong second half, they were the team advancing to host Glouster Trimble on Friday.
“That’s the football team they are,” said Armrose. “They’ve done it all season; they’ve done it against really good football teams. The match-up worried me because it was similar to Danville and Mapleton where we see big boys up front and good speed back behind and we struggled in those situations, but tonight, we were able to execute and got it done.”
Bower connected on 20-of-24 passes for 235 yards in the game, with Wenger catching six passes for 114 yards, Hunter Fulk getting nine for 66 yards and Bo Landin adding three catches for 37. Campbell ran for 74 yards and Cramer added 28.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS